With most films hitting the streaming market just a couple of weeks after they’ve been in theaters, it takes a lot to get people out to see a movie. Film marketing is a powerful art and in the last few decades, it’s grown by leaps and bounds in order to get people excited to go to the theater. While some marketing campaigns are hard to top, some can still be beaten with the help of social media and mobile devices.
Here are four of the best film marketing campaigns of all time.
While this wasn’t the first horror movie to use viral marketing to get the word out, it still managed to work up the hype for a lot of viewers. Using found footage-style trailers with no major actors in them, Paranormal Activity managed to get a lot of people online wondering what they were watching. Some people wondered if this was a collection of home movies, a documentary, or a scripted horror film.
The trailers didn’t offer much other than some jump cuts to make audiences react. When they were first shown in theaters and online, many audiences didn’t know what to make of them. However, these moderately-budgeted films turned into a popular series, with new sequels still to come.
Some snippets even showed audiences reacting and jumping out of their seats. It showed just how scary the film was, which is a powerful marketing tool for adventurous horror film audiences. Some people, convinced they were watching real footage on screen, even had to ask to believe that it wasn’t real.
This excitement, buzz, and surprise turned into a marketing campaign that brought in many times what the films cost and birthed a successful franchise.
Even though Sascha Baron Cohen had been working in the U.K. for decades, he was still fairly unknown in the United States and other parts of the world. The success of his more recent Who Is America? series proves that he’s not only a master of character acting but has an ability to hide easily.
When Borat first came out, no one knew what to make of the film. Many people thought it was a low-budget film that was actually a documentary about his crazy character, Borat. He did so many press visits in costume and in character that it only helped to spark the theory that this was a documentary about a real person.
The character, supposedly hailing from the former Soviet country of Kazakhstan, relied on some old and some invented stereotypes. The more deeply that Cohen committed to the role, the more powerful audiences reacted.
Many people still didn’t know what parts of the movie were real and which weren’t. There were even some lawsuits filed by people appearing in the film who didn’t know they were on camera. Some people acted friendly toward Cohen’s Borat while others were less welcoming and embarrassed themselves in front of the friendly and curious character.
In the history of film, there are few examples of comedy that have nearly caused the world to break out in war. The James Franco and Seth Rogan vehicle The Interview stands out as unique. Set as a narrative about a couple of journalists who get the chance to interview Kim Jong-un, it takes a twist when they’re met by CIA agents.
The agents ask the pair to assassinate him and prepare them for an interview that could change world history.
While this was meant to be a lot more slapstick than it came off, the North Korean dictator reacted negatively. The suspiciously times Sony hack of late 2014 is named as the cause for why the film was never released in theaters. Supposedly, hackers were hired to go into Sony’s system, pre-release the movie, and leak any embarrassing correspondence they could find.
The real-life act of espionage worked to foil the fictional one.
After the film was kept out of theaters, Netflix paid for the rights to release the controversial film and put it on their streaming service. Many people had already illegally downloaded the film because the hype was so powerful.
While this would be a dangerous game for any filmmaker to play on purpose, it was an odd and exciting moment in the history of film marketing.
The Blair Witch Project
As a powerful relic at the beginning of the digital era, before films tried to grow Instagram followers for hype, The Blair Witch Project did something different. This horror movie will live on as one of the best viral marketing campaigns in history. In 1999, people didn’t know what to make of this film that was shot in a documentary style and was claimed to have been “found” in the woods.
The marketing team created a story saying that these three people were actually lost with posters all around searching for the “missing” actors. The website was rudimentary but it explained the history of the Blair Witch and the story of the people who went out to find it.
They never even hinted at the project being a commercial movie with a script. They created news footage and interviews that made the whole thing look real. The film made a ton of money at the box office all thanks to one of the most clever marketing projects in the history of American film.
Film Marketing Is a Creative Art Form
If you’re interested in marketing your next project, you can learn a lot from the history of film marketing. It’s more than just free t-shirts and collectible action figures. You need to get into the heads of your audience and offer them something they don’t expect in order to attract them.
To make sure you deliver, take the time to learn a thing or two from the best intro scenes of all time.